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Red-figure Hydria - History
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Red-Figure Hydria (Water Jug) (Primary Title) – (62.1.1) Gallery
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1. Everything was contemporary once — Corona Smoking Bucket, 2020
On March 26 2020, the WA government suspended tourist operations on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) to support the government response to the pandemic. Australian citizens aboard the Vasco de Gama cruise ship were directed to be quarantined on the island from Monday March 30.
Whadjuk monitors Ben Ugle and Brendan Moore were on the island to support conservation works at the heritage site — a prison that once held Aboriginal people from all over WA, where many died.
The two Whadjuk men chose to perform a smoking ceremony for the island’s transition to pandemic quarantine facility. Smoking ceremonies are often conducted to cleanse a place spiritually, such as after a death, to welcome people, and as a sign of respect to people including past elders.
Corona Smoking Bucket: a metal beer bucket used for a smoking ceremony. Courtesy of Wadjemup Museum Collection.
A metal tin was found for the smoking ceremony — given the unplanned nature of the event, the only suitable vessel they could find was a Corona beer bucket. Seeing the irony in the serendipitous use of this object, the “Corona Smoking Bucket” was collected for The Wadjemup Museum on Rottnest Island in March 2020.
Like many objects, this bucket symbolises several histories: the fact of its collection, the impact of a global pandemic at a local level, growing recognition of Indigenous cultural practices and the connection between an Indigenous smoking ceremony and the island’s dark history of Aboriginal incarceration (circa 1838-1931).
These histories compete also with the island’s later use — as the site of decades of annual school leavers’ celebrations, reflected in the presence of the Corona bucket.
Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum | Bush-Reisinger Museum | Arthur M. Sackler Museum
It was the main duty of a Greek man to defend his city and of a Greek woman to bear children. This water jar presents a picture-perfect family: a young mother, a lively baby boy being handed to a nursemaid, and a youthful husband. A loom signals the accomplishments of the mistress of the house. The scene’s calm mood is typical for the High Classical period of the mid-fifth century BCE and prevails on grave reliefs showing similar family groups. In fact, a hole pierced in the vessel’s base renders it useless to the living and suitable for a tomb.
Identification and Creation Object Number 1960.342 Title Hydria (water jar): Family Scene Other Titles Alternate Title: Red-figure Hydria (Kalpis): Family Scene in a Domestic Setting Classification Vessels Work Type vessel Date 440-430 BCE Places Find Spot: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Vari (Attica) Period Classical period, High Culture Greek Persistent Link https://hvrd.art/o/288891 Location Level 3, Room 3410, South Arcade
View this object's location on our interactive map Physical Descriptions Medium Terracotta Technique Red-figure Dimensions H 34.6 x Diam 24.6 cm (13 5/8 x 9 11/16 in.)
Diam w/ handles 30.2 cm (11 7/8 in.) Provenance David M. Robinson, Baltimore, MD, (by 1937-1958), bequest to Fogg Art Museum, 1960. State, Edition, Standard Reference Number Standard Reference Number Beazley Archive Database #8184 Acquisition and Rights Credit Line Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson Accession Year 1960 Object Number 1960.342 Division Asian and Mediterranean Art Contact [email protected] The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request. Descriptions Description Domestic scene, father, mother, child and nurse loom in background. Mended. Publication History
Eva C. Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 73, fig. 58
Brian A. Sparkes, ed., Greek civilization: an introduction, Blackwell Publishers (Oxford, UK Malden, Mass., USA, 1998), 238/14.3
Karen-Hanne Stærmose Nielsen, Kirkes Væv: Opstadvævens historie og nutidige brug, Historisk-Arkaeologisk Forsogscenter Lejre (Lejre, Denmark, 1999), p. 75, fig. 41
Pierre Brulé, Women of Ancient Greece, Edinburgh University Press (Edinburgh, 2003), p. 166
Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium (2006)
Gabriel Herman, Morality and Behaviour in Democratic Athens: A Social History, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, UK, 2006), p. 180, fig. 5.1
Marie-Claire Crelier, Kinder in Athen: im gesellschaftlichen Wandel des 5. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. (Remshalden, Germany, 2008), p. 262 n.p. H3, ill.
Elena Walter-Karydi, Die Athener und ihre Gräber (1000 – 300 v. Chr.), De Gruyter (Berlin, 2015), pp. 328-329, fig. 209
Stella Spantidaki, Textile Production in Classical Athens, 2016, p. 54, fig. 5.7
John Oakley, A Guide to Scenes of Daily Life on Athenian Vases, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, 2020), pp. 9-11, fig. 1.4
The David Moore Robinson Bequest of Classical Art and Antiquities: A Special Exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, 05/01/1961 - 09/20/1961
Pandora's Box: Women in Classical Greece, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 11/05/1995 - 01/07/1996 Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, 02/04/1996 - 03/31/1996 Antikenmuseum und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel, 04/28/1996 - 06/23/1996
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, 08/23/2003 - 12/14/2003 Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, New York, 01/20/2004 - 04/15/2004 Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, 05/21/2004 - 08/01/2004 J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 09/14/2004 - 12/16/2004
HAA132e The Ideal of the Everyday in Greek Art (S427) Spring 2012, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 05/12/2012
32Q: 3410 South Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050
Life at Home through Artists’ (and Curators’) Eyes
This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at [email protected]
Ancient Greece Edit
- Throwing a heavy stone (a stone put).  Smaller stones were thrown one handed from the shoulder. The heaviest record of a stone throw from the period is Bybon's stone which was found at Olympia, Greece. It is 316 ibs (143.5 kg), has a handle, and an inscription which states it was thrown over the head one handed by Bybon.  The technique for the throw would be similar to the 'bag over bar' modern strongman event. Military accounts detail heavy stones being thrown as a form of projectile weapon, with even gates being broken open in this manner. This suggests the stones were of significant weight and that warriors trained in this regard in order to be able to perform the feat successfully. 
- Throwing a discus. Metal discuses weighed between 3-12 1/2 lbs, and stone discuses up to 15 lbs.
- Throwing a javelin 
- Throwing a tree trunk 
- Long jumps from standing with specially shaped jumping weights (halteres) held in the hands. For a jump from standing, one foot is positioned forward and one foot back. The weights are swung up and down until the jumper jumps in conjunction with an upswing. The long jump could also be performed without weights, and with a running start. 
- Vertical jumps as high as possible. Some descriptions state the legs are kicked out behind during the jump. This may refer to the natural movement of the legs which occurs during a powerful upwards jump. Vases (amphorae) show a vertical jump with the jumpers looking sideways, which also precipitates a movement of the bent, lower legs in this direction. 
- Jumping up and down and alternately extending the legs forwards and backwards.
- Jumping (meant generally) 
- Jumping whilst wearing armour.
- Vaulting onto horseback with a pole (pole vaulting) 
- Drill type exercises such as may be found on a modern parade ground. 
- Running. Different varieties of running were practiced such as running whilst carrying halteres, in armour,  in heavy sand, incorporating jumps along the way (hurdling), running whilst turning a large ring (hula hoop) along the ground by their side with a stick, and running whilst carrying a large metal tripod, running in a decreasing or increasing circle,  whilst holding a torch 
- Marching on the forefeet while swinging the arms 
- Gymnastics including acrobatics, tumbling, and rhythmic dance. 
- Dancing. Various dances were performed, including the Pyrrhic dance which was a war dance that imitated battlefield actions of attack and defence. It involved quick dynamic actions such as bending to one side, crouching down, leaping up etc. 
- Swimming and diving 
- Driving a chariot 
- Rope climbing 
- Empty handed dumbbell movements with the hands open or clenched. 
Strength and weight training
- . A 480 kg stone found at Santorin is inscribed with the statement 'Eumastas, the son of Critobulus, lifted me from the ground.' 
- Carrying a heavy weight  . This was for two reasons. Firstly, the sand in the gymnasium was dug over daily with a pick before being rolled flat again. Secondly, digging was performed as an exercise in its own right and was especially popular with boxers. 
- Using halteres as dumbbells in a rapid fashion including in swinging motions. Halteres ranged from between 2 1/4 and 10 lbs. Movement ranges mentioned in connection with this exercise include bending and straightening the arms, sideways movements, lunging in the style of a boxer, and bending and straightening the trunk. Another exercise described by the physician Galen, consists of placing the halteres six feet apart and standing between them. The exerciser picks up the left haltere with his right hand, and then the right haltere with his left hand, replaces them, and continues to repeat the sequence. 
- The addition of weights or armour to calisthenic exercises. 
Games and sports played for fitness
- was considered fundamentally important to contemporary fitness regimes.  . Boxing exercises included hitting a punch bag and practicing punching actions whilst holding dumbbells.  , (similar to modern MMA)  , the rules are unclear but it involved similar shaped clubs, ball, and bent over playing postures as the modern game. 
- Platanistas, a game popular in Sparta. Two teams enter an island over opposite bridges. The island is surrounded by water filled ditches and each team attempts to drive their opponents into the water using a variety of striking and wrestling techniques.  . Striking a ball against the ground or wall and hitting it again when it rebounded. Similar to the game of 'fives' in this respect.  Amphorae show some ball games were played in a piggy-back style where one person was carried on the back of the other.  Exercising with a small ball at any pace and using any desired rules and techniques, solitarily or with others. 
Sky ball, a player throws a ball into the air, and he and other players try to catch it.
Epikoinos, a game involving two teams of equal numbers and a ball which was roughly the size of a large apple. The two teams line up in a staggered formation either side of a centre line i.e. player 1 is closest to the line, player 2 midway and player 3 furthest, and the same for the opposite team. The centre line was marked out of gypsum or stone, and called skyros or latype. There was a goal line some distance behind each team. At the set up of the game the ball is placed on the centre line. When the game begins, each team races to secure the ball. Whoever secures the ball then attempts to throw it over and beyond their opponents who attempt to catch it and return it in a similar manner. By following this process, the aim of the game is to force the opposing team back over their goal line. 
- Marching 25Km in 5 hours 
- Marching 12K with 20 kg of weight 
- Running 
- Horse riding including the specific practicing of mounting and dismounting techniques. 
- Hunting 
Strength and weight training
- Training with weapons which were double the weight of ordinary weapons so when ordinary weapons were used in battle they would feel lighter and easier to control. This may also be considered as a form of contrast loading. 
- Military training exercises performed in armour 
- Chopping wood 
Games and sports played for fitness
- Wrestling 
- Boxing 
- Fencing 
- Archery 
- Dart throwing 
- Ball games.
Trigon, (trans. Triangle) involved players being positioned at the three points of a triangle and throwing or hitting the ball to each other. 
Harpastum, the gameplay is not fully clear but involves players passing to each other in a bid to avoid an opposing player who is attempting to intercept the ball. It also involves feinting to fool the opposition and dodging out of the way. Non-active players would wait to join in the game, perhaps standing around in a circle to demark the playing area. A waiting player could be allowed into the game by an active player. 
Medieval Europe Edit
- Throwing the stone. A one-handed throw of a stone from the shoulder is among the more common exercises displayed in medieval artwork. The thrower holds the stone above their shoulder and turns their body sideways on to the desired direction of travel. They shift their bodyweight so it is predominantly over the foot which is the same side as the stone. They then throw the stone as hard as they can which involves a shift of the bodyweight to the other foot. Throwing heavy stones is also an exercise, a knightly pursuit, recommended by the fencing master Hans Talhoffer. 
- Climbing. Climbing up the inside of a narrow tower, or between two walls, using pressure from the hands and feet, or other parts of their body. Climbing up the corner of two perpendicular walls using pressure from the arms and legs. 
- Climbing up the underside of a ladder.
- Dancing vigorously, including in armour.
- Marching carrying weight, including uphill.
- Gymnastics including acrobatics and tumbling. Knights would perform somersaults in full plate armour but without the helmet.
- Vaulting, especially onto or over a horse or wooden horse.
- Long marches carrying weight uphill. 
- Horse riding including practicing turning on horseback 
- Wall running i.e. running up a wall and grabbing the top edge. Similar to what is practiced in modern parkour.
- Running and jumping. 
- Gymnastics including bridges and handstands. 
Strength and weight training
- Training with double weighted weapons, and larger weapons such as great swords. 
- Pushing heavy stones and moving other large and heavy objects. 
- Lifting heavy stones over the head with two hands.
Games and sports played for fitness
- Fencing. Sword fighting using heavy weapons, heavy armour and heavy shields. 
- Staff fighting
- Jousting and competing in tournaments which involved various forms of armed combat. , including the Irish Caid, the Welsh Cnapon, and the French La soule. Such games could involve running, jumping, wrestling, and climbing depending on the playing surface. 
- Stone putting. One handed from the shoulder. Throwing heavy stones. 
- Stangeschieben, was the holding of a tapered stick by the narrow end over the shoulder, and throwing it so that it landed thick end first. 
- Javelin throw 
- Climbing,  including scaling forts, and climbing up ropes using varying numbers of ropes and different climbing styles.
- Running, including running and jumping 
- Gymnastics including bridging, handstands, and acrobatics. 
- Vaulting 
- Swimming 
- Horse riding including for long distances 
- A person stands on a sturdy plate, which is then lifted up by other people.
- A person sits in a chair which is connected to a pulley system. The person is then hoisted upwards by other people who are pulling downwards on the pulleys.
Strength and weight training
- Practicing with heavy weapons 
- Holding and moving dumbbells around the body with a stepping action and twist of the torso. A similar routine is depicted whilst the exerciser holds a large square plate.
- Hanging weights over the shoulders.
- Lifting heavy stones including one handed lifts over the head. 
- Weight lifting, including moving large and heavy objects 
Games and sports played for fitness
- Wrestling 
- Fencing, including fighting with great swords, and sword and shield  training 
- Climbing. Rope climbing using different rope patterns and climbing styles. Climbing up a sheer vertical post. Climbing up the underside of a ladder using the hands only. Climbing a ladder with legs as bent as possible.
- Monkey bars 
- Chin ups
- Spinning around horizontal bars with bent arms
- Walking and balancing along narrow beams. 
- Gymnastics,  including parallel bars, the gymnastic horse, and olympic rings. 
- Seesaw ladder. Like a normal seesaw but instead of a cross beam that is sat on, it has a ladder crossbeam which each person reaches up to hold onto. They are thereby lifted up from the ground whilst holding onto the underside of the ladder crossbeam. They then descend, land, go into a squat, and then push the ladder upwards in a jumping action so that they go up and the other person goes down. 
- Pole vault 
- Bodyweight squats, and one legged bodyweight squats (pistols)
Strength and weight training
- Holding and moving dumbbells around the body often with a stepping action.
- Swinging wooden clubs (Indian clubs) 
- Weighted pulley exercises 
- Pulling a loaded sled up a hill
Games and sports played for fitness
The main training focus which is shared across all historical periods is the achieving of good general health through physical fitness.  The most obvious visual sign for a person achieving this was looking ‘in shape’. Or in other words, the body's muscular proportions being in the correct ratio to each other, having good posture in general, and not carrying too much or too little fat.
When physical training was used to prepare for athletics or warfare, the focus was predominantly on agility, speed, explosive power, and endurance. There was little attempt to emulate the hardiness and physical strength of the peasant or manual labourer, because the kind of strength developed by those roles was considered too slow and unagile for competition, be it in athletics or war.  For this reason exercises which required powerful, dynamic movements were more frequently recommended than those which required slow moving strength i.e. ballistic training and plyometrics more so than heavy weight lifting.
Representations of athletes and warriors typically have very similar body proportions: a large full torso, large or very large gluteal muscles, and a build which overall looks muscular, athletic and robust. The commonality of this body shape for people throughout history who have undergone physical training means it was a build which was the result of, and reciprocally supported the further achievement of, the training goals of agility, speed, explosive power, and endurance. 
Athletes, especially in Greece and Rome, tended to be thicker set than warriors who were in general leaner. This was partly due to athletes being able to depend on regular meals and sleep patterns, and warriors having to be prepared to be deprived of these. Thus, it was easier for an athlete to maintain a more muscular frame, whereas it was an unnecessary and difficult task for a warrior involved in campaigning. The relative proportions of the build were however similar which shows there was a belief in optimum physical proportions which could place someone in the best situation to achieve a variety of tasks. On this subject the historian E. Norman Gardinier notes that while in Ancient Greece there were variations in the builds of the athletes based upon the event they specialised in, these variations were slight and that there was a universal standard of development which was the result of universal forms of athletic training. He goes on to argue that for this reason statues of athletes would be made with a sign of the event they specialised in, otherwise it would be too difficult to tell them apart based upon their physical development alone.  For similar reasons of attempting to achieve the optimum body proportions for moving in a fast, agile, and powerful manner, people throughout history, who have undertaken physical training, tend to be of similar proportions.
The J. Paul Getty Museum
This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.
Attic Red-Figure Kalpis
Aegisthus Painter (Greek (Attic), active about 480 - about 460 B.C.) 27.8 × 31 × 26.1 cm (10 15/16 × 12 3/16 × 10 1/4 in.) 86.AE.230
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Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 103, Athenian Vases
Main View, front
3/4 from above at front
Attributed to Aegisthus Painter (Greek (Attic), active about 480 - about 460 B.C.)
Athens, Greece (Place Created)
27.8 × 31 × 26.1 cm (10 15/16 × 12 3/16 × 10 1/4 in.)
Red-figured kalpis (Display Title)
Water Jar with Herakles Wrestling the Nemean Lion (Display Title)
Probably by Aegisthus Painter (Greek (Attic), active about 480 - about 460 B.C.)
As the first of his twelve Labors, the Greek hero Herakles had to slay the Nemean Lion, a monstrous beast that was ravaging the countryside around the city of Nemea. Since weapons were of no use against the creature’s impenetrable hide, Herakles' only option was to strangle it. Herakles battling the Nemean Lion was the most frequently depicted mythological scene in Greek art. In early depictions, Herakles stands facing the lion, but by the late 500s B.C., the combatants were often depicted wrestling on the ground. On this Athenian red-figure kalpis, a tree bends over Herakles and the lion, indicating that the action takes place outdoors.
The kalpis is the rounded form of a hydria, or water vessel, favored by red-figure artists in this period. The three handles of the shape facilitated pouring and lifting.
1963 - 1983
Walter Bareiss, American, born Germany, 1919 - 2007 and Molly Bareiss, American, 1920 - 2006 (Stamford, Connecticut), distributed to the Mary S. Bareiss 1983 Trust, 1983.
1983 - 1986
Mary S. Bareiss 1983 Trust, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.
Greek Vases and Modern Drawings from the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Walter Bareiss (June 13 to October 5, 1969)
Greek Vases at Yale (November 19, 1975 to January 18, 1976)
To Do Battle: Conflict, Struggle and Symbol in Art (March 8 to July 8, 2002)
"Art Across the U.S.A.: Outstanding Exhibitions." Apollo 90 (October 1969), p. 346.
Bothmer, Dietrich von, and J. Bean. Greek Vases and Modern Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bareiss. Exh. checklist, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: 1969, p. 5, no. 57.
Beazley, J. D. Paralipomena. Additions to Attic Black-figure Vase-painters and to Attic Red-figure Vase-painters. 2nd ed. Oxford: 1971, p. 381, bottom.
Matheson, Susan Burke, and J. Jerome Pollitt. Greek Vases at Yale, exh. cat. (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1975), pp. 64-66, no. 55, fig. 55.
"Acquisitions/1986." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 15 (1987), pp. 160-61, no. 7.
The J. Paul Getty Trust Bulletin 2, no. 1 (1987), ill, front cover.
Beazley Addenda: Additional References to ABV, ARV2, and Paralipomena. 2nd ed. Compiled by T. Carpenter with T. Mannack and M. Mendonca. Oxford: 1989, p. 252.
The J. Paul Getty Museum Calendar (Spring 1993), ill., detail.
Kostouros, George. A Narrative of the Nemean Games (Nemea: George Kostouros, 2008), p. 124, fig. 89.
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Apulian Red Figure Hydria
This streamlined, symmetrical, terracotta hydria, which would have been used as a vessel to carry water or wine, is painted with a delicate, reflective black glaze. The black glaze creates the negative space, leaving the exposed terracotta underneath to depict the shapes of the human figures. The hydria has an exquisite tactile sensibility the glaze feels smooth, and the terracotta sections left empty of glaze are rougher and cooler to the touch.
The circular object between the male and female figures is a tympanum, a percussion instrument that was commonly used as a part of ritual Dionysian worship (Mayo, p.112). The female figure on the left, who is clothed, and holding a mirror to assist the male in preparing for a Dionysian ritual, is a maenad. Maenad is the term for a specific archetype of nymph - one who is a nurturer or nurse figure, who would care for, groom, and prepare Dionysus, or a younger athletic male figure, in advance of a festive ritual.
The younger, nude male models the classic Greco-Roman ideal of male beauty and athleticism, as he reclines in a regal posture, and allows the maenad to attend to him.
The mirror held by the maenad would have been made of polished bronze. In the context and time period of this hydria, the bronze mirror is a symbol of luxury and opulence due to the scarcity and corrosiveness of bronze, only the elite would have been able to afford such mirrors.
This hydria is influenced by the Darius-Underworld workshop style, as evidenced by the meticulous decorative style of the painting, and the careful attention paid to depicting the musculature on the male figure.
For additional reading on this style of hydria, refer to The Art of Southern Italy, by Margaret Ellen Mayo, Virginia Museum Press, 1983, ISBN 0-917046-12-9.
Attic red-figure vases
Mostra/Exhibition Tesori dalle terre d'Etruria. Firenze, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 29 ottobre 2020, dalle ore 14,00 from 2pm
Ricostruita dopo quasi 150 anni la collezione archeologica del conte Napoleone Passerini, oggi acquisita dal Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze.
295 pregiati reperti : importanti vasi attici figurati (alcuni dei quali considerati persi dal 1879), vasi figurati etruschi (fra cui un grande cratere ritenuto uno dei più antichi e importanti vasi etruschi a figure rosse), buccheri, ceramiche etrusche da mensa a vernice nera, bronzi, armi in ferro, oreficerie (spirali fermatrecce, orecchini di vario tipo e un diadema a foglie di alloro), vasi da miele e urnette cinerarie con iscrizioni etrusche, etc.
Per le limitazioni dovute alla pandemia, non vi sarà una inaugurazione formale, ma tutti sono invitati a visitare la mostra, con ingresso gratuito, dalle ore 14,00 alle ore 22,00 del giovedì 28 ottobre 2020.
Catalogo della mostra, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze, 29 ottobre 2020 - 30 giugno 2021. Con schede di:
Pieter Heesen, Andrew J. Clark, Elisabeth Langridge-Noti, Nicole Cuddeback, Michael Padgett, Mario Iozzo, Martino Maioli, Barbara Arbeid, Andrea Martelli, Edoardo Albani ed Elisa Salvadori, Fernando Gilotta, Luca Cappuccini, Claudia Noferi, Marco Sofia, Paolo Persano, Mariangela Turchetti, Ada Salvi, Stefania Berutti, Greta Balzanelli, Vittorio Mascelli, G. Carlotta Cianferoni, Andrea Magno, Federica Biagiotti, Barbara Cattaneo.
The Red-figured Hydria
This object is the property of Iziko Museums. Should you wish to make use of it in any manner, permission must be obtained from Iziko Museums.
The object is available for viewing at Iziko’s Social History Centre by appointment only.
Attic black and red figure vessels were made in a potters’ workshops in the Ancient Greek Empire, using a potter’s wheel that was operated by labourers and slaves. The tools of the potter were primarily his nimble fingers, aided by a few simple implements, and through the complex processes of wedging, throwing, turning and joining, which are still used by modern ceramists, these vessels were brought into being. The imagery painted on the vessels depicts tales of past civilizations and Greek iconography and culture. The meticulous craftsmanship that was involved in creating these vessels is nearly impossible to recreate, and as a result Greek vases carried [and still carry] high artistic and commercial value.
The production workshops were located in Kerameikos, in Athens, and were close to the Mediterranean and Black seas, which were common thoroughfares for ships carrying goods for trade from the Empire. This proved to be convenient for the sale of the pottery, largely to the Mediterranean region and further lands.
This hydria, like most others, was made by slaves in a potter’s wheel using attic clay found in Kerameikos in Athens. How it came to be part of a collection in England is unknown, but it may have been traded, purchased by a museum or purchased by an auction house, where these vessels fetch millions of dollars as rare objects.
WHAT CAN A GREEK VASE TELL US ABOUT SOUTH AFRICAN MUSEUM HERITAGE?
The red-figured hydria is an ancient Greek vase dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C. The hydria is a liquid storage vessel used for products such as oil, perfumes, wine and water. Its simple design, an oval centre, connected to the top by a flat shoulder, three handles: two horizontal, one for the handling and one which facilitated the pouring, made it a popular design during the peak of its trade and production.
Between 1820 and the early 1900s, South African museums mostly represented white dominance. Under the apartheid regime, between the 1950s and the 1990s, state museums were co-opted into nationalist ideology by the National Party government. During both these periods, Greek vases were collected by museums, because this is what European museums collected. Since the 1994 democratic elections, South African museums opened their doors to all, and under the new government are required to illustrate a multicultural, rainbow nation and redress our nation’s discriminatory past. The museum’s lens shifts from insular and repressive to re-imaging, and this has inevitably led to extensive re-thinking and reordering hierarchies within the museums throughout the country.
The red-hydria was once a dynamic object used for its practical purposes and to display the power and beauty of the Greek empire. But overtime, it has become static and an object of desire, moved from private ownership to a public heritage and cultural institution. It’s movement from one continent to another speaks to global trade and the value of these highly priced objects. The museum’s role in acquiring the hydria is significant as it performs its original function as a cabinet of curiosity. Yes, we can learn a lot from the Greek vessel, both in terms of its original context and its movements across the globe, but as we move towards a contemporary postcolonial museum, we need to consider what these kinds of objects, like the red-hydria Greek vase, can say about South African heritage, and how we value its various aspects today.
WHAT CAN A GREEK VASE TELL US ABOUT SOUTH AFRICAN MUSEUM HERITAGE?
When South African museums were under White colonial, and subsequently, apartheid control, their primary mandate for identifying items to collect, catalogue and curate was very much based on a Eurocentric model of collecting. As a result, they have objects such as the red hydria in their collections objects which do not speak to the South African context or to the majority of the population. While this was not a problem for White colonialists and apartheid officials, it has become a concern to the democratic dispensation, which seeks to reimagine, and in turn rethink and reorder, museums and their pervasive hierarchies.
The red-figured hydria was bequeathed to the South African Museum (SAM) in 1930 by Alfred de Pass, who is described by South African art historian Anna Tietze (1995) ‘as one of the most lavish art benefactors of the century’. The displaced vessel is now conserved in the Iziko Social History Centre’s (ISHC) Greek collection under the supervision of Esther Esmyol, the curator of Social History, and is catalogued with the accession number SACHM 1327. It has a height of 37 cm, and its widest diameter is 31 cm. The maker of this Greek vase is unknown, but the object nonetheless has a story to tell, namely: how it was made, when, by whom, for what purpose, and what its relevance is to South Africa.
This ancient Greek vase dates back to the 3 rd or 4 th centuries B.C., when it would have been used as a liquid storage vessel for products such as oil, perfume, wine and water. It has a simple design, with an oval centre connected to the top by a flat shoulder, three handles: two horizontal, one for handling carrying, and one that facilitated pouring. This made it a popular design during the peak of its trade and production (3 rd to 6 th centuries B.C.). This hydria, like most others, was made by slaves on a potter’s wheel, using attic clay from Kerameikos in Athens, conveniently locatedclose to shore. The Mediterranean and Black Seas were common thoroughfares for ships carrying hydrias and other goods for trade from the ancient Greek empire.
In South Africa, Greece, Rome: Classical Confrontations, Classics scholar Samantha Masters (2018) explains how
the history of the South African antiques collections and their reception is not a simple story of a former colony inheriting these dusty tokens of an Empire’s wealth and glory. Nor is there a straightforward or trouble-free account of their current meaning in a post-colonial, post-apartheid context.
Many museums across the globe have ancient Greek vases in their collections. In auction houses, rare Greek vases can fetch millions of dollars, apparently because of their artistic and commercial value, and the meticulous craftsmanship that is centuries old and impossible to replicate. The imagery painted on the vessels is important, as it depicts tales of past civilisations, Greek iconography and culture. These objects, which were once functional, now live in the false light of display boxes and the shadows of storage rooms.
From 1926 until 1949, de Pass generously donated several works to museums and galleries. The hydria was taken from de Pass’s private collection in Falmouth, England, and was bequeathed to the South African National Gallery (SANG). The largest influx of classical objects into the collection was through his donations, between 1925 and 1942. The red hydria was first publicly exhibited in 1934 as part of The de Pass Collection: Objects Illustrating the Arts of Ancient Civilisations. In the 1960s, this vessel was moved to the newly established South African Cultural History Museum (SACHM), where it was photographed, catalogued and displayed. In the early 1990s the country ushered in political change, and the hydria landed up in storage at the National Mutual Building, date unknown, when the SACHM galleries were rearranged. The ISHC catalogue card has very little information about the various venues in which this hydria has been displayed. However, we do know that it went out on loan to the Sasol Art Gallery in Stellenbosch (currently the Stellenbosch University Museum) as part of a show titled Living Antiquity (2005–2007) and then formed part of a smaller exhibition, Containing Antiquity (2007–2011). According to Esmyol, the hydria now functions mostly as an object to be studied and exhibited by university scholars.
The red hydria is on exhibition at the Center for Curating the Archive’s Object Ecologies exhibition, which opened in November 2018, at ISAM. All the displayed objects are exhibited in wooden cabinets. The inclusion of this hydria, with other objects bought, stolen and found as a result of colonial rule and apartheid, is important, as it tells us about the interrelationship between the varied static objects on display, all tasked with speaking to our heritage. These objects all come from various national museum collections, each with a distinct collection history and objective. The cabinet’s display can be read as a microcosm of Iziko Museums of South Africa, of static objects functioning as a tool of reimagination of our nation’s past, and a gateway to understanding the contemporary.
The civilisation of ancient Greece is one of the earliest and biggest colonial empires. By the 5 th century B.C., the Greeks had colonised the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and beyond and established regional governance known as polis (city). Each polis was governed by a constitution, currency, dialect and laws. Greek language, literature, history, cultural costumes, norms and beliefs spread to Rome and lands as far away as North Africa, the former Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Most poleis adopted Greek culture as a central feature of education, culture and governance, and the various poleis fought amongst each other for dominance. By the late 8 th century B.C., Roman conquerors colonised and annexed Greece and its poleis but kept many of the Greek ways of life.
What does this say about the hydria’s place in the de Pass collection, about the spread of ideas across the globe, biopower and cultural imperialism? Formerly in the Dillwyn Parrish Collection of Greek and Egyptian Antiquities, this hydria was purchased by de Pass at an auction at the Sotheby’s auction house, London, in 1929 and was kept in his private collection in Falmouth. de Pass was heir to Daniel de Pass, a wealthy sugar plantation and shipping merchant, and generously donated this hydria along with an extensive collection of relics and paintings, which were specially housed in a room in the north-east corner of the museum designated the de Pass collection. The room was known, for many years, as the ‘de Pass Room’ and expanded from one to three galleries between 1926 and 1949. This relationship led the wealthy benefactor to adopt a paternalistic attitude towards the museum, but in 1949, John Paris, from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, was appointed director. Paris had a different vision for the SANG Gallery, and de Pass’s Edwardian-period entitlement did not sit well with him. Exhibiting signs of megalomania, de Pass wrote to Paris,
This Gallery was built … to house my pictures together with the pictures then housed in a backroom at the Museum … and I was allotted three rooms for pictures, watercolours, and drawings, etchings and engravings … etc … I was allowed to hang the pictures and have done so on and off up to the time of your arrival.
By 1949, de Pass had bequeathed the museum over two hundred and forty paintings, relics, drawings, prints and sculptural works, including this red hydria.
Cultural imperialism in the fields of sociology, art history, curating and anthropology, amongst others, prioritised Eurocentric cultural relics, artworks, customs, languages, norms, values, ethics and beliefs. Colonial and apartheid South Africa’s museum collection practices perpetuated this by privileging Eurocentric objects, which culturally instrumentalised colonisation through a belief in the superiority of European relics and, by extension, history. This supported and fuelled colonial and apartheid social, cultural and political dominance. The privileging and collecting of objects like this red hydria functioned as a political tool to prevent the intrusion of ‘uncivilised’ norms, customs and beliefs. The museum further mitigated resistance by the colonised by cataloguing incorrectly and deliberately eradicating objects that did not support colonialism (and, subsequently, apartheid). In post-colonial, post-apartheid South Africa, cultural imperialism is slowly ending. The museum’s lens has shifted from insular and repressive to a lens that seeks to reimagine. This has inevitably led to an extensive rethinking and reordering of hierarchies within museums throughout the country.
So how is this vessel relevant to a South African museum-goer? In the nation’s reimaging approach to the archive and collections, what can these objects say about contemporary South Africa? With these questions in mind, I recently visited the exhibition Fired at the Castle of Good Hope, curated by Esther Esmyol. Although the exhibition outlines ceramics’ and pottery’s global design influence across cultures and time, the focus covers material culture and status to practical and cultural function and adds to a narrative of displaced, static objects. Objects in Wunderkammers (cabinets of curiosity) are permanently displaced the challenge for curators, particularly in South Africa, is to problematise and rethink the objects through a postcolonial lens, placing equal importance on the objects’ history, makers, original function and its state of limbo in the museum space.
As we move towards a contemporary postcolonial museum, we need to consider what such objects can tell us about South African heritage, and how we value its various aspects today. Although they are not connected to the cultural life of the majority of people in the country, objects like the red hydria tell us not only about the power and beauty of the Greek empire, but also about the Eurocentric collecting practices of South African museums and the international valuations that influence what we value and, in turn, collect and conserve through our museums. The question of what it can tell us about South African heritage remains to be seen. In the same fashion as museum collection practices, this essay itself perpetuates a familiar privileging of knowledge discourse – reproducing debate around the same objects, but through the lens of reimaging, restricting and reimagining, shifting the center from classics to popular contemporary discourse, as a means to justify the continual preservation, privileging and conservation of the same old relics.
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